I’m hip-deep in producing the videos for the Excel for Self-Publishers video course. (Two and a half hours of video done, probably half an hour worth to go. Woot!) And it has me thinking about competition a lot. Partially because it’s such a business-focused class/book.

When I first started self-publishing, the indie mantra was “we’re all in this together”. And everyone talked about sharing everything and how there was room for everyone. People were encouraged to self-publish and you’d see authors openly share the genres where they were finding success. It was an all-for-one environment.

I’ve seen it on the trade publishing side, too. This idea that there’s room for everyone. That authors don’t compete with one another. That we’re all just one big happy family of writers who will conquer the world together.

Now, you may have noticed that I’m a bit of a cynic. If you hadn’t, I am.

So this message never sat well with me.

(One of the lessons I learned in business school was that there are some people out there who’d stab their own mother in the back to get ahead and they won’t hesitate to lie, manipulate, or cheat to get what they want. Not taught in class, by the way. More a matter of observation and listening to what some people chose to brag about. Suffice it to say, I have some classmates I would never, ever do business with.)

Anyway. Over the years I have tried to reconcile this message of “help everyone and we’ll be better off” and the fact that we don’t live in a limitless world.

And here’s where I’ve come out on this whole issue:

When it comes to growing a genre so that it’s recognizable and people can ask for it by name, we’re in this together.

When it comes to growing a sales platform so that readers go to that platform to find a new book, we’re also in this together.

By working together to drive discoverability of what we write and where it can be found, we all benefit. When people read a Twilight or a Harry Potter or a Hunger Games or a 50 Shades and want more, all authors who write that type of book benefit from that new reader hunger.

Anything that expands the potential number of readers is good for all of us. And so early on having quality writers self-publish and raise the respectability of self-publishing benefited all self-publishers.


There are only so many spots at the top of the lists. And there are only so many hours a reader has to devote to reading per day. And only so many dollars they have to spend on new books.

And there are only so many advertising slots available. We’d all love a Bookbub on all of our titles, but that’s not an option. They only have so many spaces available to run ads and more than enough books to choose from.

And with pay-per-click advertising (like AMS), the more people who are using them, the more it costs everyone to use them.

So it’s sort of a love-hate thing.

We need our fellow authors to keep readers engaged with books as a form of entertainment between our own releases. No one author (unless they’re insanely prolific) can meet the reading needs of their readers. And it’s in all of our interests for people to read instead of turn to tv shows or movies or laser tag or what have you.

But when there is enough product out there to keep readers engaged, and I’d argue there is, then we all start competing with one another for what is now a limited resource — reader time and money, as well as visibility.

(And if that competition then leads to people releasing subpar product or taking shortcuts that damage the reader experience…well, that damages us all, too, right? Readers throw up their hands in disgust and either go re-read their favorites or turn to tv and movies for their fix.)

Anyway. A few thoughts for a Friday afternoon, partially based on something I see going down right now but don’t want to post about, because, ya know.

Time to get back to producing a product only about a dozen people will want. Because that’s how I roll…



My First $5,000 AMS Ad!

First, for those who signed up for the video course of AMS Ads for Authors yesterday, thank you. Also, thank you to Liz for pointing out that the video was too quiet. I had listened to the videos with headphones on so hadn’t caught that and it wasn’t caught in the Udemy quality review either.

Fortunately, I have a videographer friend whose Friday nights are as exciting as mine who helped me figure out how to fix it. (Noise Leveling + Gain=12 for those who are curious.) I revamped all the videos and reuploaded them last night so they should all be good to go now. And apologies to anyone who was trying to listen during that two hour period while I was uploading the new versions, but hopefully you all have more exciting things to do on Friday nights/Saturday mornings than learn about AMS and didn’t even notice.

(But no judgement if you don’t. I’m right there with ya.)

ANYWAY. I wanted to share my cool little milestone. As of today, I have my first AMS ad that has $5,000 in reported total est. sales:

My first 5000 AMS ad

I love this ad. And this book. (It’s also responsible for my first $1000+ month on CreateSpace.) If only they were all like this…

A few things to say about the ad and how it confirms how I think AMS work:

-This was a new release that I started advertising in September. So it was a fresh book with a fresh history.

-The book had outside sales that helped it get started initially. So AMS ran better on this book due to that outside momentum.

-The ad has tried to die on me a few times. I’ve had to change the bids and keywords to keep it going.

-It was also a title that readers wanted and would go and actively try to find. (Most of the things I write, aren’t.) Which means that the click ratios on the ad are very good and so are the click to sale ratios.

-The ad only has 106 keywords so you can definitely get high sales off of limited keywords if they’re the right ones.

And one final point. This is a newer ad. I only started running it in September. So AMS are not dead. They may be more challenging, especially in fiction, than they used to be. But they can definitely still drive sales.

Also, something else I’ve been seeing on my dashboard that I’ve mentioned before, but is worth pointing out again: Product Display ads will continue to accumulate spend even after they’re paused. I set up a PD ad as part of the video course, paused it four or five days ago, and it keeps getting one or two clicks a day and spend to go with that. So be careful with those if you run them.

(And, because I’d be remiss if I didn’t say it…Don’t forget that there’s a promo code for the AMS video course available in my last post. And I’ll always make sure there’s some sort of discount on the course available from this website, so if someone reads this many months from now, look for the course listing tab to get a discount link.)


AMS Ads for Authors Is a Video Course

Whew. That took some effort. But the video course is now live on Udemy. A very exciting moment.  It is not perfect, but I think it’s good. And for those of you who were wanting something more visual than the book (which didn’t include screenshots), this does the trick.

And I have a special deal for you blog readers. The course is priced at $99.99 but if you follow this link you can purchase the course for just $9.99. That link will work for the first twenty-five folks who use it and is a pretty good deal if I do say so myself.

But some of you should check your emails or Kboards PMs before using that link. If I could link you to a review of the book, you have a different promo code to use. And if you reviewed the book and didn’t hear from me, reach out please. I appreciate people who put themselves out there by leaving a review.

Onward and upward. Next one is going to be Excel for Self-Publishers. Good times!



I Beg to Differ

One of the challenges of self-publishing is that it’s so broad and so different that it’s almost impossible to see the whole picture and the different possibilities. Which is why I really hate absolutist advice.

I’m probably guilty of it myself from time-to-time, but I try to caveat what I say with “this is my experience” or “this is how things work for me.” And because I have books published across non-fiction, romance, and fantasy I can see that things work differently depending on what you’re publishing, which maybe helps me keep things in check a bit more.


Anyway. I was at a conference this weekend and there were a few times I wanted to raise my hand and say, “I beg to differ.” I didn’t. I probably made a funny face, though.

So since this my blog, let me have those imaginary arguments here.

Debatable Point #1: You won’t really sell paperback copies as an indie.

I beg to differ. Last month I made over $1,000 on the sale of paperback books. It was almost as much as I made on Amazon US for the month. Now, is that normal? No. Absolutely not. My romance paperback sales are still under twenty copies sold ever.

But for non-fiction (in my case) and middle grade and folks who really work the convention circuit but aren’t good at online sales and for picture books and gift books, it’s quite possible to sell a good amount of paperbacks.

I even want to say I saw a romance writer on Twitter who posted a screencap that showed $30,000+ in paperback sales. (I have no idea what she sells in ebooks to have that number, but I do know my jaw hit the ground.)

So what I would say is: You are more likely to sell ebooks than paperbacks as an indie. In general. But there are definitely categories where print will sell better. And the more you sell overall, the more paperback sales you will have and that amount can add up to a pretty penny. So don’t neglect print. And don’t assume print sales aren’t possible or profitable.

Debatable Point #2: AMS Are Too Complicated and You Shouldn’t Use Them Unless You’re an Analysis Junkie

Once more, I beg to differ. Yes, you can get very analytical with them. In Excel for Self-Publishers I get obscenely analytical with them. But you don’t have to. Most days all I do with my AMS ads is check in a couple times a day to see if any have exceeded their daily budget and up the budget if they have. (I like to start all ads at $5 in spend each morning.)

When I started my last AMS ad for a new title this is what I did: It was non-fiction so I did a search on Amazon for the subject matter and listed the names of the top fifty or so books that came back in my search results plus a bunch of generic search words like the one I’d used. And then I occasionally checked in on the ad. If it wasn’t moving, I upped my bids. If it was and I was getting sales, I upped the bids for those words that were profitable, and pulled back for those that weren’t. I paused keywords with lots of impressions but no clicks and lots of clicks but no purchases.

That’s it. There you go. That’s what you do.

For fiction I would’ve used author names instead of book titles. Otherwise, it’s the same process.

Can you get a lot more in depth with your analysis? Absolutely. And I have. But 90% of the time, what I just described is all it takes. I have 20+ ads running on a daily basis and I maybe spend five minutes on them daily.

(Keep in mind, my approach to AMS is to use a single Sponsored Product ad per title that I try to keep running long-term by tweaking the ad as needed. Other approaches may be more analysis intensive.)

Debatable Point #3: You Should Only Run AMS If You Have Ten or More Books or At Least a Trilogy Completed.

I beg to differ. Look, I get the point. The more books you have for readers to go to, the better off you are and the more profitable an ad will be. A weaker first book can still result in a profitable ad if you have ten books for readers to go to afterwards. And maybe there’s an idea behind this advice that you shouldn’t be wasting your time early on with ads but should instead be building up a product base.

Fair enough. But here’s the deal: Self-publishing can be soul-destroying. You put out a book that you think is well-written. It has a nice cover. People who read it like it. But no one is buying it. Maybe three people a month. You just worked hundreds of hours on something and you think it’s good, but…sales say otherwise.

Do you know how easy it is to give up at that point? To never write that trilogy? To circle back and try to fix your “mistakes” or decide that writing is just going to have to be a hobby for you?

It’s so, so easy. I know a guy who put out a book about four years ago and set it to free because no one seemed to want it. He quit writing because why bother? And then he started running AMS ads on it. And got reviews. And switched it back to paid. And made $25,000 in less than a year on that same novel that no one had bought. Because the issue wasn’t his writing. It was visibility. People can’t read what they can’t find.

So, sure. Best practice is to wait until the last possible moment to advertise because you’ll get that much more of a bang for your buck. But in reality, sometimes those initial sales are what keep you going. And AMS is the best way I know to get long-term full-price sales. So why not try them?

And this idea of needing ten-plus books before you dive into them? Why? Because of the learning curve? It’s not that hard. Trust me.

Yes, I run ads across more than ten books, but I know many authors doing well with the ads with far fewer titles. Does it take some tweaking? Yeah. Does it take some money up front? Yep. You pay now, you get paid two months from now. But why would you not give it a try? It just makes no sense to me.

Defensive AMS Ads

Most of the AMS ads I’ve run over the past eighteen months or so have been for one purpose: to make money. I’ve run those ads as long as what I was earning on the books exceeded what I was spending for the ads, regardless of what the AMS dashboard might actually reflect at any given moment.

(I take the ad spend for a period and compare it to ebook and paperback sales as well as page reads for the time period to see if I’m net positive or net negative. And, yes, that’s a flawed approach because the page reads might be for a book that was borrowed six months before that, but you do what you can do and let go of the rest.)


That’s been my standard approach.

But I noticed a while back that Amazon was doing something very annoying and unpleasant. And that was placing one or more Sponsored Product ads above the actual search results on the Amazon page. Here’s a search I just did for CreateSpace:

Amazon CS search

See how the entry that’s showing is a Sponsored Product ad? You have to scroll down to see actual search results based on the term CreateSpace.

Note that that’s my ad and quite intentionally so. I had actually turned off AMS ads on that particular book because I was spending just a little bit more to run that ad than I was receiving back in sales and it’s not a big seller to start with.

But last week I told someone about this book and when they tried to find it on Amazon, they couldn’t. They used the title “CreateSpace for Beginners” and they used the author name “M.L. Humphrey.” Neither search brought up that book. I tested it, too, and same thing. I could not find a combination of book title and author name that brought the book up in a search result.

That’s the ugly truth of Amazon. They don’t provide a word-for-word search result. If you have a low selling title and you try to search for it by title and/or author, it won’t come up. Sometimes they’ll display no search results at all rather than display the book in question.

Which means that if you tell a friend about your book that isn’t selling well and they go to Amazon to find it, it’s quite possible they won’t. (This is not an issue with Barnes & Noble, by the way. Search there and this book comes right up.)

This is where running defensive AMS ads comes into play. You run an ad not to make a profit, but to at least have minimal visibility. Now, I don’t know that it will work all the time, but it did at least work this time. I now have ads running on all of my non-fiction titles even if those ads only have a handful of active keywords. And for each of those ads I have my book title as one of those keywords so that, hopefully, even if Amazon refuses to display my book as a search result they’ll still display it as an ad.

Sad, I know, that I have to do something like that just to get my book to show in a search result. But that’s the way it goes sometimes. (As I type this I’m thinking that I really need to make a more significant effort to direct traffic to any site other than Amazon, because, seriously, what a shit thing to do on their part.)

The other reason to run defensive AMS ads is because of that top spot on search results being an ad. One of my titles is selling very well right now and if you search for relevant keywords it’s number one or two in the search results. But there’s an ad that appears first. So even though people might see my listing and click on it, I want to have that top spot, too, so they don’t see someone else’s book in that first spot and buy it instead. Makes selling that book more expensive, but that’s the way it goes.

So, bottom line: If you have lower-selling books on Amazon it may be worth running an AMS ad to at least make sure that anyone who comes looking for your book will find it. And if you have a well-selling book on Amazon it may be worth running an AMS ad to own that top search result.

(And if you’re wide it may be worth putting in some serious effort to drive sales to other platforms that won’t screw you over this way.)

Playing 3D Chess While Juggling Chainsaws

I was trying to think of a good analogy for what self-publishing feels like to me and that’s what I came up with. It’s like trying to play three-dimensional chess while simultaneously juggling chainsaws.

I suspect that’s not the case for every author. If you write under one pen name and in one series, it’s probably much more straight forward. But I currently have seven active pen names and multiple lines under some of those. For example, M.L. Humphrey has the Excel books, but also books on Word, self-publishing, writing in general, and personal finances.

Thanks to AMS ads, I can keep most of those moving at least a bit every day once a title is published.

But where to focus efforts and energy is where it gets interesting. Write another fantasy series because I’m pretty sure I’ll need twelve novels before I can really judge how that pen name will do long-term? Write another romance novel because just two romance novels under that one name have done well for me and another might cause another leap upward in terms of sales? Find a way to expand on the non-fiction titles? Master Google AdWords so I can find a steady way to promote my books on non-Amazon platforms?

There’s just me and just so many hours in the day. I have to pick one and do it.

And I’m not operating in a vacuum here. Every other self-publisher is making their own choices right now. Choices that will impact me. So are traditional publishers. And other entertainment providers. And the government. And social media platforms. And consumers for that matter.

All of it has an impact. For some of it there’s nothing to be done. Not yet. I either can’t see it or can’t do anything to change it or react to it.

And for the rest of it, even if there is something that can be done, the better answer is probably “produce more content regardless of what that content is.” Because without product to sell it really doesn’t matter what the market is doing or what the competition is doing.

Which is why I should stop writing this post and starting working on the next thing. (Whatever that’s going to be, which is the problem after all…)

Poor Promo Choices

When you first start self-publishing, all you want is to see your books sell. At least that was the case for me. I mean, I’d put all this effort into writing something and I’d put it out into the world and now I wanted people to actually buy it and, hopefully, enjoy it or find value in it.

So any promo I could get, I took. (At least, successful ones. I wasn’t trying to throw money down the drain.) Pay $5 for a BKnights free promo and see four hundred people download my book? Yes, please. Get a Bookbub on my fantasy novel. Hells yeah.

But here’s the thing. Not every promo, even a successful one, is a good choice.

I applied for my first Bookbub when my fantasy trilogy was incomplete. I had two books out but not the third when I was accepted for that first one. And I was thrilled to get it. Yay, new fans.

But at the same time, I was kicking myself for my impatience. Because, and I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before, I think I’m a good enough writer that a decent percentage of people will read and enjoy my books and go on to buy the next one if it’s available. But I’m not such an amazing writer that they’ll wait around breathlessly for my next one. I don’t have the issues GRRM or Patrick Rothfuss have. I don’t post or tweet and have someone reply, “Stop posting and write.”

So if I promo a book before a series is complete, chances are there’s a certain percentage of readers who will read the books that are available, like them, but then go on with their lives and never think about me or my books again. Which means that, for me, the longer I can wait to promo, the better. Don’t promo book one when it comes out, promo the series when it’s done.

That’s easier said than done, of course. Because I always want to hope I’m that “oh my god, I love you” author and you can’t tell if you are until you get sales. And money is nice. I tend to run profitable promos, so each promo, even the ill-advised ones, means income.

Another mistake I make with promo (which I made today which is what prompted this post) is that I promote books to an audience I’m not going to be able to satisfy long-term. I have a book in the top 50 in the free store today because of a promo. But it’s a title I have no intention of following up on and all of the other titles under that name aren’t going to appeal to those readers.

If they want more of that they’re not going to get it from me.

So why did I do it? Why waste that time and energy? Why catch and release?

Money. Probably. It’s a KU title so a free run can often pay for itself with page reads. And I think I can use AMS to sustain the momentum the free run will give it. But there’s nowhere for those readers to go. Not with me. They’ll read it and move on and that’ll be it.

And if they do love it? If I do get, “oh my god, write more” emails? That’s gonna be a problem. Because I have no intention of writing more of that right now. Or ever.

Which means that promo, even if profitable, was a mistake. To pursue fans you can’t satisfy. To promo for short-term gain when it does nothing for long-term stability. Wasted effort.

(And, really, writing that title was all part of the same sort of mistake. It felt good to see those sales when I originally released it, but there was no long-term strategy involved. I was just throwing things at the wall to see what would stick.)

Ideally, everything you do as a writer works together. You write titles that feed into one another. Same world, same genre, same whatever it is so that readers who find you want everything you’ve written. (This is much more the case with fiction than non-fiction, by the way. At least the type of non-fiction I write.)

So you write works that lead to one another. And then you promo those titles to build your author brand so that the release-promo-release-promo cycle all moves together and with each promo and each release you see a bigger impact than the one before until it becomes like a rock rolling downhill and all you have to do is release, release, release with just enough promo to let people know something new is out.

That should be the goal. That’s how you do good promo.

(But you know me. I’ll keep up with this poor promo approach, because I’m strange that way. Don’t be me, kids.)